Remediating an Inquiry: CLMOOC Make Cycle 2

I developed much of the thinking in this post, and a good deal of its actual language, in blog and email conversations with Paul Allison, Nadinne Aboulmagd, and Maha Bali.

Remediating has been a challenge, in large part because I love to write, in the old-fashioned sense of the word:  using a pen to put text in a notebook or a computer to put text on a screen.  I’m not nearly as comfortable or experienced at composing in other media.  So when the challenge of remediating our texts appeared on Monday, I was initially resistant.  Even when Anna Smith suggested remediating our inquiry questions, I was skeptical:  wouldn’t this be a distraction or detour from the work I wanted to do this summer?

However, I’ve learned that good things usually happen when I push myself out of my comfort zone, so I resisted my urge to dismiss the idea of remediation in favor of doing my own thing.  The Make With Me, as I mentioned in my last post, helped me clarify what I might do:  use mapping to consider the power relationships at my school.

As the week went on, the thinking behind my make proved to me much more interesting – to me, at any rate – than the make itself.  Though I looked at a few different online mapping options, I decided in the end to make an old-fashioned pen-and-paper map.

This was my first attempt at mapping the power relationships at my school.
This was my first attempt at mapping the power relationships at my school.
This was my second attempt.
This was my second attempt.

The second attempt does a better job, I think, of showing my perception of power at the school, though I realized after completing the map that I switched from circles to rectangles without any particular reason.  Multiple rings in a circle shows more power.   The size of the circle or rectangle does not correlate to increased power, however.

I think I’m going to create a third map that uses hierarchical proportion to show who has more power.

I also should note that these maps only account for people who work at or attend the school as well as the families who send their children to our school.  It does not include other actors who exert power – e.g., district administrators, board members, outside consultants, the county office of education, lawmakers, vendors…

As I thought about the power relationships at my school, in addition to realizing that it’s extremely difficult to represent the complex manifestations of power, I realized that there are more questions that I might consider in my inquiry.

What would happen if I mapped my view of the power relationships at my school?  What would happen if I asked my students about their perceptions of these power relations?  Will these perceptions change if I give students more autonomy in my classroom?

What do we mean when we ask “who has power in our school?”  E.g., are we talking about power over resources?  Power over expected outcomes?  Power over evaluation and “gatekeeping”?  All of the above?  How might my inquiry change depending on which aspect of power I am considering?

To what degree do people cede power to others at our school?  If teachers/administrators/staff cede power to students and families, will this affect outcomes positively?

Can I use sociogramming techniques to learn about how my students perceive our school?  Can I use these methods to learn more about what students and their families want from school?  Would this lead to a greater democratization of expected outcomes?

I’ve also been thinking about Chapter 5 of Shagoury & Power’s The Art of Classroom Inquiry, which uses the term “distant teachers” (from Vera John-Steiner’s Notebooks of the Mind) to describe the texts we read to inform our research.  In addition to “distant teachers” in education, Shagoury & Power point out that we can learn from other fields as well.  I’ve been reading Margaret Collins Weitz’s Sisters in the Resistance, and this week I read the obituary of Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 children from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939.

This has led me to ask some questions about how this reading can inform my inquiry.  For example, the incredible bravery and selflessness of Winton and résistantes such as Lucie Aubrac and Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux lead me to ask:

What are the possibilities of human achievement?  

How can I learn about my own potential as a human being from these stories?  

How can learning about people we admire inform and sustain our efforts to build communities that are humane and compassionate?


7 thoughts on “Remediating an Inquiry: CLMOOC Make Cycle 2

  1. Hey Michael, I think you may enjoy Ellsworth’s “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering” (Google should get u a pdf, or my blog’s “read this” tab) in how it tackles complex power dynamics (from a poststructuralist perspective – I didn’t know what poststructuralism was). It highlights how the white female teacher has white and middle class privilege compared to POC male students but they hold male privilege in larger society and how it affects power in class. When emphasizing gender issues to my students, I often have to deal with male students who refuse to acknowledge that inequality . I keep looking for opportunities to point it out and ask them to question it. Near end of semester many students start pointing these out on their own. But i struggle with how to do gender discussions in class – because i cannot be neutral but i have power that can silence male students . And pointing out to women their oppression can be frustrating if i don’t give them tools to deal with it. Freire talks about this a little, how initial consciousness-raising can result in chaos from anger of the oppressed before they figure out how to deal with it.

    1. Thanks, Maha – I’ve got the Ellsworth piece open in a tab right now & I’ve read the first couple of pages. I’ll let you know what I think when I finish. The problem you raise regarding gender discussions is a complicated one. I’d be curious to learn what other progressive educators have to say about this; I certainly don’t have an answer.

  2. I am a huge fan of mapping out all sorts of things … the only concern is that a map can distort as well as clarify things … great post on illuminating thinking about process of inquiry ..

    1. Hi Kevin, the idea that maps can distort is important. I suppose maps are like narratives in this respect; we need a diversity of cartographers just as we need diverse stories. This is one reason why I want to explore how I can involve my students in mapping, or otherwise describing, their perceptions of our school.

  3. I enjoyed reading this. It’s nice that you remediated visually ( as in drawing not writing so a bit outside of what you’re used to) but still in the same medium that you’re most comfortable with (the pen and paper – as opposed to creating something digitally). So it’s interesting that you’ve challenged yourself but obvious that you did it in a way that still is in your preferred and familiar way. This actually triggers an idea for reflection on how people sometimes do strive to challenge themselves but in ways they prefer, as in the challenge is okay or appealing to them but rarely do I see people challenging themselves by doing something that is undesirable to them. Not saying that’s a bad thing by the way, I don’t want to give off the feeling that I am criticising that you did that, on the contrary I admire that you challenged yourself.
    Also makes me think about how people push themselves outside of their comfort zones willingly, mindfully and purposefully but never against their will and for no purpose. (Don’t want to get carried away reflecting on your blog hehe, so maybe me more on these thoughts later on mine).

    I like how you mapped the answer to your inquiry. When I first read your inquiry I asked the same questions you later asked like “What do you mean by power?” and “What makes one more powerful? Is it the financial provider, is it the decision maker, or is it the parents putting their kids into the school?” So it’s nice to see you’re on the same track of thought.

    I beg to differ on your point: “The size of the circle or rectangle does not correlate to increased power, however.” For me, visually, the size of the box the name or title is in (especially in a hierarchy) portrays the amount of power they have – or at least the amount the mapper gives them. So I think it’s a good idea to try out hierarchical proportion, have you? If so I’d like to see? If not yet, would you like to collaborate?

    1. Hi Nadine – thanks for your comment. 🙂 It didn’t occur to me last week that pen and paper was a more familiar way of making a map for me, but your analysis makes sense. Now that you mention it, I see that I am equally comfortable with digital formats as with and pen-and-paper when it comes to media that privilege text – emails, word processing, and to some extent blogging – but when it comes to media that privilege the visual, I prefer pen & paper. So it’s not so much the switch from digital to non-digital as it is the switch from text to visual that causes me to feel less confident.

      I agree with you about the hierarchical proportion. What I meant when I said that size didn’t correlate to power was that I didn’t keep hierarchy in mind as I mapped – as a result, in that particular make, some of the community members with the least power ended up with large circles or rectangles simply because the label I gave them had a lot of text. I should have made the circles for the administration and teachers much bigger.

      I think it would be interesting to collaborate on making a map that shows the proper hierarchical scale – do you have an idea for a digital tool we could use for that?

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